Back in the summer of 1995, anytime there was an awkward pause or a need to strike up casual conversation with a stranger, we all had O.J. to talk about. It was the summer of the O.J. double murder trial, in which dozens and dozens of witnesses spent months being questioned by lawyers clocking millions of dollars.
In the end, the nation gathered around our TVs that fateful October morning to hear those two controversial words from that California jury — not guilty.
Simpson's acquittal on the June 1994 double murder of his ex-wife and her male friend triggered a racial divide in which the country is still wallowing to this day. Depending on whose side you were on, that day was one of either extreme exhilaration or extreme anger, but one thing was certain — it was riveting television.
Thursday afternoon in Nevada, nine years into a 33-year sentence for trying to steal memorabilia items he claims were his back in 2007, and fresh off his 70th birthday, O.J. Simpson faced a parole board who would ultimately grant him his freedom, like that jury in 1995, unanimously (4-0 this time). That televised spectacle had tinges of 1995 in it, a cheap imitation with the exact same ending as the double murder trial two decades ago — O.J. mouthing the words "thank you" to those who voted for him to be a free man, an eerie moment of déjà vu.
Again, if you think Simpson killed two people back in 1994, it was kind of a sad day all over again, and if you think O.J. has been a victim all these years, well, they must have been a rough near-decade for you, but fear not, Simpson Apologist — O.J. Simpson will soon be free (by October 1 at the earliest), as he was in 1995. Sadly, though, we learned yesterday that 2017 Simpson is just as delusional and self-absorbed as 1995 Simpson. He hasn't changed a bit.
With that said, here are my four takeaways from the parole board hearing today:
1. O.J. Simpson seemed to be TRYING to talk his way back into prison.
Each of the parole board members had a chance to ask Simpson questions before the board made its determination, and the very first one asked a simple question — "What were you thinking the night of the robbery?" Rather than give a contrite, concise, apologetic answer, Simpson instead attempted, for the next ten minutes, to re-litigate the case nine years after the fact, peppering the parole board with a barrage of excuses, half-truths and conflicting statements.
He even, at one point, got testy when the board questioned whether the items he was trying to rob were actually his. (Simpson insisted they were. Loudly.) The legal experts commenting on the hearing on ABC (Dan Abrams, George Stephanopoulos) couldn't believe what they were watching. Honestly, if ever a convict were fearful of being placed back into society, à la Brooks in Shawshank Redemption, Simpson seemed to be giving him a blueprint for holding onto a life sentence. It was fascinating to watch — same ol' "Juice." My favorite Simpson line...
"I'm no danger to pull a gun on anybody," Simpson told the board. "I've never been accused of it in my life. I've never done it in my life."
Okay, but what about cutlery, Juice?
2. OJ's lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne, is a boob.
If we need a measuring stick to judge just how far Simpson's star (and income) has fallen, look no further than his legal representation. In 1995 he had the "Dream Team" of attorneys, a million-dollar group with names like Cochran, Bailey and Shapiro. This time around, Simpson was accompanied by some clod named Malcolm LaVergne, who let Simpson ramble for those ten minutes without jumping in, cutting him off or kicking him underneath the table. At one point, LaVergne spent what felt like an eternity reading letters that Simpson had written to state legislators containing recommendations Simpson made for making prison a better place, and LaVergne praised Simpson for not asking these state leaders to let him out of prison early. One hopes O.J. won't need lawyers anymore.
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SHOW ME HOW
3. The threshold for the quality of performance required by a prisoner at a parole board hearing must be really low.
Even with all of Simpson's floundering, rambling and general delusion, the board was still pretty firm in not just their vote, but also their subjective assessment of Simpson as a positive force while in prison. They made it feel like a "no-brainer" that he be released into society, which I'm sure the families of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman are thrilled about. By the way, be prepared for LOTS of Fred Goldman on your TV screens over the next few days.
4. So what now for Simpson?
"What now" is what should have been "what now" two decades ago when the jury in the double murder case handed Simpson a figurative pile of house money — Simpson SHOULD just head to Florida, get out his golf clubs and disappear forever, living off his NFL pension and other income streams that the Goldmans and the Browns cannot touch in trying to extract money in the civil judgment from 1996 that found Simpson liable for the deaths of the pair. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, Simpson's income streams netted him around $600,000 during his eight years behind bars. Lovely. I guess when you have free room and board for nine years, the money piles up.
Simpson left the courtroom the recipient of a stern warning about the consequences of any run-ins with the law, and he nodded his head that he understood exactly what he was being told. Even with all those reasons to disappear now, somehow I don't think this is the last we've heard from Orenthal James Simpson.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.